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Who manages activities at the aerodrome?

February 9th, 2011
[by David Armstrong]

Just who is managing activities at Motueka Aerodrome and controlling its growing use, particularly with respest to the noise it generates? This was a question exercising Councillors and Board members at the public forum before yesterday's Community Board meeting.

Phil Peters expressed concern that aerodrome activities did not seem to be overseen by the Council or by community representatives. He said his concerns were raised further by the news last week that the aerodrome owners were getting a new larger helicopter, and he wondered what rules were in place or being enforced to prevent ever larger and noisier draft being used.

"Who oversees how these are being used, and if they fit in with the aerodrome's management plan?" he asked. As an example of lack of oversight, he noted from a plan document he had obtained - and asked if it was still in force - which said some craft were allowed as long as they were not to be used for training purposes.

Board chairman David Ogilvie said these activities were managed under the oversight of the TDC's Enterprises Committee. none of the board members, councillors or council employees present at the meeting could give a definitive answer as to what the current usage rules are.

Phil asked that the Board investigate what the management process is to monitor aircraft sizes and purposes of use, and the noise levels that some craft use. Excessive use and larger craft is causing increasing dissatisfaction among residents, particularly those living under the flight path.

Motueka Online knows several people who live under the northern (Pah Street) end of the flight path from the aerodrome who are heartily sick of the number of noisy flights taking off from the north-east end of the strip on relatively still days, when it should have been equally safe for takeoffs to be toward the south-west end, thus avoiding noise to the residential area. In addition, helicopters need never go over residential areas.

Comment by Katerina Seligman, McGlashen St, Motueka:
[Posted 14 February 2011]

I'm very happy to see the noise and air pollution caused by the Motueka Aerodrome being addressed. I live on the flight path and I feel sure there could be some compromises made to minimize flights over the town. When planes go over my house, as well as being disturbed by the noise, I can sometimes even smell the fumes from the aircraft.

Comment by Margaret Giroux, McGlashen St:
[Posted 18 February 2011]

When we were looking to buy our current home we made many visits to the site and on only two occasions was there any noticeable air traffic noise (one plane each time). We moved into the house in May and the noise was manageable. However, when summer began we noticed a DRAMATIC increase in the number and frequency of air traffic, variety of aircraft, and times in which the flights began and ended (earliest, 6:30 am, latest 8:45 pm).

We want to stress that we are pleased to have the airport here and that those businesses add value to the community. However, our concerns center on; the choice to take off over the town even when there is no wind (could they take off towards the hills?), the frequency of the take offs (some days it comes in phases of every 3 minutes and lasts at least 35 - 40 min), the flight path of helicopters (can't they fly in any direction?, if so why choose over the houses?), the increased number of objects flying (at least 4 types of planes, helicopters, microlights), and finally the hours of operation.

I agree with Phil Peters that it is time to review practices at the airport and come to some agreements that work for both the businesses at the airport and the community.

Comment by Beth Bryant:
[Posted 20 February 2011]

I think that the CAA - Civil Aviation Authority - set the rules. They have been helpful when I've emailed or called and asked them what the rules are. Perhaps someone who is involved in this current issue would like to try that. Also I have found the Aero club and training, clubs etc at Motueka airport have been very helpful when approached abuot such concerns.

Comment by Tom Watkins:
[Posted 7 March 2011]

A continual increase in aircraft activity from the local aerodrome over the past 12 months is turning Motueka into a place whose best feature may be easy access to other, more restful areas elsewhere.

There has been a continual incremental increase in aircraft movements over the year; each change not in itself much to complain about but collectively sufficient to call, "Enough!" Residents are being treated as though we are unworthy of consideration, subject to long periods of high-decibel aircraft drone, whine, roar and crackle at their operators' whim.

Over the past few months I've noted:

  • Take-offs commence at any time between 6:30am and 8:40pm on any or all days of the week.
  • Even when wind is insignificant, pilots favour take-offs over the most-populated areas.
  • The majority of take-offs follow a direct line over the township for considerable distance without turning, thereby subjecting most of the township to the maximum extent of take-off noise.
  • At times, successions of take-offs occur over the township at less than 30-second intervals, creating a sense of continuous aircraft movement at full throttle for 12-20 minutes.

Discussions outside, barbeque gatherings, rest and quiet gardening, lie-ins, daytime sleep, indoors discussions, and thoughtful work inside the house by those of us who work from home are disrupted by a random barrage of noise that would be unacceptable in any New Zealand town if created by heavy trucks or souped-up cars on the road.

I understand that the Tasman District Council holds or oversees the Motueka aerodrome operating certificate and is required to provide the Director of Civil Aviation with an exposition of the certificate containing, amongst other things, a description of safeguards for public protection and an environmental management programme. It would be helpful for residents to be told the current details of those requirements, and the extent to which they are being followed.

I understand that although the rules give little consideration to aircraft noise, very many flights already breach some requirements by taking-off directly over the township and continuing for considerable distance past the town before turning. Tasman District Council should not allow this.

It would be timely and reasonable for TDC to revise the exposition of our aerodrome's operating certificate and impose the following new controls for public and environmental protection:

  1. Flights of any kind over the township to be avoided except in emergencies.
  2. All take-offs that necessitate flight towards the township to turn at first opportunity (a designated point and height) to the least-populated areas.
  3. A curfew on flying between 7pm and 7:30am.
  4. Take-offs on days on which insignificant wind allows take-off in either direction, to be routinely in a direction away from the township.
  5. A mandatory four-minute pause between take-offs.
  6. All flights of stunt planes such as the Pitt Special, warbirds such as the recent visiting Harvard and other louder than two-seater flight-trainer aircraft to avoid activity over the township other than take-offs and landings where absolutely necessary for emergency purposes.
  7. Significant limits on the number of flights permissible each day by the Fletcher Agprop (or similar larger aircraft) used for parachute drops.
  8. All helicopter flight activity over the township prohibited and their take-offs and landings to pass away from the township rather than towards and over it.
  9. A no-fly day, once a week.

I have raised my concerns about these matters with the Manager of Property Services, TDC, who has responsibility in the first instance for overseeing the aerodrome's operating certificate. I encourage others to do the same.

Comment by Anton Petre:
[Posted 13 March 2011]

I wonder at the sense of folk who go and live near a busy airport, then complain about the noise. Some of the restrictions proposed are preposterous, and would come close to destroying an important part of the local economy. It is to be hoped some reasonable and sensible compromises will come from these discussions, but aircraft are far from the only source of noise -- how about chainsaws, mowers, bird-scarers ... all can cause irritation, but all are part of the economy and production.

Comment by Matt Beech:
[Posted 13 March 2011]

It amazes me somewhat that such an issue keeps raising its head in this community when, compared with the likes of Wellington, Auckland or even Nelson, the amount of air traffic that uses our relatively small aerodrome is minuscule.

Some years ago I was present at a wedding reception adjacent to the airport at Mangere. The people who owned this property lived right in the flight path of this international facility but got on with their lives in a matter-of-fact fashion.

I am sure that those who use the facilities locally are glad to have them - including the drag-racers who use the runways and create plenty of noise even if it is only relatively infrequently for a few fleeting hours per day. Live, and let live, surely!

Comment by Katerina Seligman:
[Posted 14 March 2011]

In response to the last two comments: Chainsaws and mowers only disturb our peace occasionally. The air traffic noise is often continuous. Yes lets "live and let live". Surely this includes letting residents enjoy some peace and quiet.

Editor's note:
[Posted 17 March 2011]

An article headed "Residents riled by aerodrome" written by Anna Pearson was published today in the Nelson Mail, reporting on this issue and summarising recent arguments. Read it here »

Comment by Tom Watkins:
[Posted 29 March 2011]

In a 17 March Nelson Mail story ("Residents Riled about Aerodrome") TDC property services manager Jim Frater acknowledged he could understand how residents' concerns about aircraft activity noise around Motueka would be upsetting in view of the increased activity about which he was "not surprised". He implied that TDC lacks the power to do anything about it. According to the Civil Aviation Authority however, as owner of the aerodrome TDC sets the operational guidelines and may allow or limit whatever operational practices it wishes. Outside of regulations administered by CAA, TDC has the final say.

Mr Frater was reported as saying that "there had been few complaints in the past seven to eight years". Not so. Since at least 1990 and as recently as 2006 many residents from across the township and surrounding area have methodically and comprehensively researched and formally presented to the TDC their concerns about aerodrome operations. (I currently have access to the records of this.) CAA also receives frequent complaints from the district (including from rural areas) and has done so within the past few weeks.

In November 2005 the then Motueka Aerodrome Manager (a TDC employee) wrote that airport tenants had agreed to adopt a "good neighbour" code of practice with four agreed protocols that aimed to avoid nuisance to people:

  • Where conditions permit, to take off [ . . . ]to the south; and
  • Avoiding flying over the urban areas in Motueka whenever possible.
  • Where flying over urban Motueka [ . . . ] keeping to minimum ceiling heights above 1,000ft AGL and where possible 3,000ft AGL.
  • Where possible to avoid any flight patterns which are repetitious [ . . . ] over the same areas.

To an observer, all of these protocols are routinely breached every day. Following even one of them would make a welcome neighbourly difference. If, however, they are being accurately observed, then other ways of reducing noise need to be found. Otherwise, the problem will continue to increase, as it has done over the years. Indeed, I understand that the parachuting Fletcher Agprop plane is shortly to be replaced by an even larger capacity aircraft. There are currently no limits to this kind of growth.

It may help all those interested in this discussion to remember that the flight academy, stunt plane, microlights and parachuting operations were introduced to Motueka well after most of the township was established, not before.

Slow creep problems are always difficult to deal with but that is no reason for avoiding them. Legally required to ensure that in the exercise of its regulatory functions it acts without bias, TDC should find ways to balance the needs of business with those of its residents. Because I believe that businesses can successfully co-exist with consideration for citizens' needs, I hope TDC has the will to do so in this matter.

For the record, I live in the Motueka township and not, as has been reported, next to the aerodrome.

Editor's note:
[Posted 13 April 2011]

Community Board Chairman David Ogilvie suggested that the Board should ask Council "to transfer governance and operational issues for the Motueka Airport to the Motueka Community Board, as from July 1st."  Read the news article here

Comment by Liz and John:
[Posted 28 April 2011]

To Tom Watkins (and those who complain about the noise from our airport)... get real man, why did you buy that area knowing there is an airport nearby? We live in Tillson Cres and often go to the airport to watch the sky dive and have noticed the noise at the airport is LESS than at our house where we hear not only the aircraft but the happy noise of the people skydiving.

We do not find this a problem but an interest as we go outdoors to see the 'shoots' of the divers. How would you get on near a busy road? Stop the traffic in certain hours?

Come on Tom, just enjoy what we are lucky enough to have here and get on with life. Motueka is a lovely place, we all have to put up with something/someone but let's not expect them to change. If we don't like it, move, simple. We have the rec centre near us, the sport ground, both have quite a bit of (happy and often loud) noise, but we are quite happy for other people to enjoy doing their thing ... just as we do!

Editor's note:
[Posted 11 May 2011]

The issue of management secrecy and transfering governance and operational issues for the Motueka Airport to the Motueka Community Board was discussed further at the Community Board's May meeting.   Read the news article here

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